Both the BRM Type 15 and Maserati 450S promised much, but didn’t deliver. By Kevin Turner Monster with a roof
Most racing cars of the 1950s had more power than grip. Skinny tyres and no downforce meant sliding and drifting were commonplace, but two cars went way beyond the envelope of the era’s technology, and suffered as a result.
The BRM V16, created to challenge the Italian domination of grand prix racing, could produce – when everything was working – over 500bhp from its 1.5-litre supercharged engine. The later Maserati 450S was perhaps the most brutal sportscar until the arrival of the better-funded Ford GT40 and Porsche 917 programmes in the 1960s, its V8 providing 400bhp.
Both cars won races, but ultimately both were failures. And neither was easy to drive.
If there was one car that could challenge the BRM V16 as the worst racer Stirling Moss ever drove it was the one-off Maserati 450S Zagato Coupe.
Produced for Le Mans, the idea of a closed, more slippery version of an open sportscar for straight-line speed on the Mulsanne was not new. Mercedes had made the famed 300SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe, but withdrew from motorsport before it got to race. The Maserati did get to compete, to much misfortune.
Moss was heavily involved in the car’s creation and suggested successful aerodynamicist Frank Costin help pen the closed 450S for the 1957 24 Hours. Whether the incredibly flawed car was the result of poor design or the rushed way in which Costin’s concept was put together by Zagato is open to debate, but there is no doubt it was a failure.
The coupe was cramped, visibility was poor, the window wipers didn’t work, and it was hot and noisy. It was also slower than the open 450S.
Moss hauled the car into the top three early in the race before being delayed by an oil pipe failure. It was repaired, but the rear universal joint seized and ended its adventure before quarter distance.
“The big problem with the coupe was there was nothing to clear the screen,” recalls Moss. “The open car was faster and more driveable.”